Richard Dutkiewicz had always wondered about his father. He’d never known him – his mother had said he was killed in action in the Pacific at the end of World War II.
“I was born in Germany in 1946,” explains Richard, who now lives in Canberra. “My mother was German, my father an American marine from Pennsylvania, stationed in Germany towards the end of WWII.”
Richard grew up only knowing his father’s name – Richard Woodring – and not much else.
In late 2017 Richard’s wife, Carol, gave him an AncestryDNA test. The results arrived and showed a strong UK heritage and a link to the Pennsylvania settlers. No surprises there. Then things became really interesting.
“I was gobsmacked when they showed several hundred second, third and fourth cousins in the USA,” says Richard. “But the strongest match was the biggest surprise. We had an extremely highly likely confidence level of close family – possibly a first cousin!”
At age 11, Richard’s mother sent him to Australia alone by ship to live with an aunt and her Australian husband. “I couldn’t speak a word of English when I arrived,” says Richard. “It was a tough time. The aunt brought me up as her own through never officially adopted me,” says Richard. “She told me she didn’t really know anything about my father except that he had a sister but that my mother didn’t want to have any contact. I often wondered about my father and all my life felt like I didn’t really ‘belong’ – especially after my aunt later adopted a baby girl.”
Fast forward to February 2019 and the siblings are preparing to meet for the first time. Richard’s waiting at the arrivals gate at Sydney International Airport with flowers and a toy koala in his hands, to meet Christina who has travelled from California to meet him. “[Christina had] contacted me within a few days of the AncestryDNA matches to question our shared DNA,” Richard explains. “I told her all I knew and after several emails back and forth we realised that we are brother and sister! The names, ages and places corresponded with what she knew of her father.”
“Christina told me that our father wasn’t killed [in the Pacific] and had in fact returned to the USA after the war, subsequently married her mother and they had two daughters. Her mother divorced him when the girls were very young, moved away, remarried and changed the children’s surname to that of their stepfather. Christina grew up unaware of his existence until she was 26. She luckily was able to meet and get to know him before he passed away in 1998. It’s so sad that I didn’t get to do that.”
How would the siblings recognise each other at Sydney’s busy airport?
It wasn’t a problem at all, reveals Richard. “As soon as Christina walked through the gate at the airport I knew she was my sister. I knew straightaway, there was an insane connection.”
“We spent a fortnight getting to know each other. How do you make up for so much lost time?”
Christina brought with her photographs of their dad. “I might have been his twin,” says Richard. “I was the spitting image of him. There were so many similarities between us.”
What’s the next instalment in this amazing story?
Well, Richard and Carol’s three sons have recently pitched in to send their parents to California to see Christina again and meet her two daughters. “I’ve told them to be ready for a bit of a party!” says Richard. “We might get to visit my father’s grave but I think it might be a bit too far away to travel. For now, we just want to focus on the two of us. All I want to do is see Christina again. We talk and message every day.”
“I’m still pinching myself that this has happened,” says Richard. “It’s amazing. I’m telling all my friends to take an AncestryDNA test. Just have an open mind. It completely changed my life!”
Cassie Mercer is an editor based in Sydney. She founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010, creating a following of 60,000+ readers and working with Australia’s key cultural institutions to bring the nation’s history to life across Inside History’s multi-channel platforms. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s, one was a highwayman in Dublin and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.